Today’s bizarre launch of ‘No Labels’, the so-called ‘Woodstock of Moderates’ purporting to speak for the voiceless ‘center’ in American politics is a sham. Why? It began life in early 2009 as the brainchild of Mark Penn’s wife, socialite Nancy Jacobson. Initial meetings, just a few months into Obama’s presidency, convened at Penn’s opulent Georgetown residence. Penn and Jacobson desperately sought a platform to re-create their political relevance. HRC supporters and most independent observers branded Penn as larcenously incompetent. He was professionally and Jacobson socially adrift.
So, before the Tea Party took hold, before Beck broke out his Fox ghetto and Obama’s presidency still undefined by anyone, Penn and Jacobson declared Obama and the Democratic majority ‘radical’. Penn and Johnson were ‘centerists’ – a positioning more rooted in bootstraping their own social ambitions than objective political analysis.
Their early gatherings in 2009 featured many of the same faces we see today. Then, as now, Jacobson gathered together Tom Davis, Penn, DLC-Dems, and other Bush’41 apparatchiks to plot her return to prominence and her husband’s re-habilitation. We know. An attendee asked if we wanted to explore a possible invitation to a meeting, if anything sit back against the wall as an observer. We wanted nothing to do with either Penn or his wife, Jacobson. We predicted failure.
We were right. These 2009 meetings petered out. Before the Tea Party really took off. None of the ‘moderates’ from either party really agreed with each other on basic ideological frameworks, policy recommendations or messaging. There was no charismatic personality emerging around which to build a movement, At best all could agree to ‘reasonableness.’ They, like the Neocons, were all chiefs and no indians – no one wanted to do any real work building something but would love to find a vehicle for their own uses.
Fast forward to today. Jacobson and Penn make a virtue of their failure. No leaders or organizational bones are features; the vague ‘No Label” moniker is just a hip, social media crowd source thing. No one has to do any hard work. No one is building political infrastructure devoted to reclaiming the political center. People just get to proclaim their ‘like’ – no click even needed. Painless. And ineffective. As before in 2009, most are has-beens or soon to be former: former congressman, former governor, soon-to-be-former mayor, former advisor, etc. No one really left in the game. Tom Davis? Dead man to VA Republicans. Crist? Worse. There are 3 moderate Republicans in the new House. Instead, Jacobson and Penn have added TV show hosts. The Morning Joe show? MSNBC-affiliated radio talk shows? Oh, and college democrats. Jesus. And so on.
Secondly, what will this motley social branding effort achieve? Will this Nancy Jacobson/Mark Penn vehicle become a 501(c)(4) or a 527 group and engage in independent expenditures? Raise money? Take on misleading ads? No. Will they hold rallies? No. Apparently they will encourage members to cite David Brooks’ columns as the acme of reasonableness. And mind the civility. Use the small fork for salad!
‘No Label’ is as meaningful – and transient – as a trending tweet. Perhaps it has one other use. It can serve as a chyron title beneath Penn or someone else’s cable appearances.